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San Carlos landings anniversary begins the Royal Navy's 'hardest week'

HMS Ardent's stern is aflame after a succession of attacks
21 May 2021
Today we remember those who sailed into the jaws of hell on this day in 1982, for their courage and self-sacrifice ensured the liberation of the Falkland Islands.

Six weeks after sailing from the UK, the amphibious element of the Operation Corporate task group began putting Royal Marines and soldiers ashore at San Carlos, a remote, but sheltered bay on East Falkland, with the ultimate goal of seizing the capital Stanley, 50 miles away.

The landings took the Argentinians by surprise initially, but once they awoke to the danger, they committed their aircraft against the invasion force in five days of ferocious attacks.

Frigate HMS Ardent was one of the outer screen of ships attempting to shield the landings from air attack.

A succession of direct hits and near misses left the Type 21 a blazing, twisted mess, each blow from the enemy bombs “as though a giant was holding the ship by the stern and whacking it down on the sea”, her Commanding Officer Commander Alan West – the future First Sea Lord – recalled.

As valiantly as his sailors fought off the foe and tackled the flames, the future First Sea Lord was eventually forced to abandon ship, signalling to HMS Yarmouth: Take off my men.

Twenty-two men died on HMS Ardent – the heaviest loss of life of any RN vessel in the 1982 conflict – while the frigate succumbed to her ‘wounds’ the next day… as the land forces consolidated their bridgehead.

San Carlos Water and neighbouring Falkland Sound would enter history as ‘bomb alley’ and Ardent would not be the bombs’ last victim, sadly.

The anniversary of the landings at San Carlos and the loss of HMS Ardent opens a week in history perhaps unparalleled in the annals of the Royal Navy.

Over the next week we will bring you a series of articles remembering the triumphs and tragedies of seven remarkable days – May 21 to 27 – in RN history spanning the Falklands, the Battle of Crete, the Bismarck Chase and victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.

It was as though a giant was holding the ship by the stern and whacking it down on the sea

Commander (later Admiral) Alan West, HMS Ardent

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